What Adventists Get Wrong about the U.S. in Prophecy


What Adventists Get Wrong about the U.S. in Prophecy
by Jeff Boyd 

In church this past Sabbath, I listened to a sermon about the United States in biblical prophecy. The sermon was part of a prophecy series (Unlock/Unlocking Revelation) that is being preached across the Lake Union Conference, not just in our single congregation (Media: WNEM5, MLive). I was told there are over 170 locations running the series simultaneously.

I like our local pastor. I respect him. My frustration with the sermon is not about him (I don’t believe he wrote the sermon). My frustration is about a very white-centric view of U.S. history. For context, the pastor is white, I’m white, and the majority of the small congregation is white (more so now than when we began attending three years ago).

After writing an initial draft of this blog post, I shared it with him so he could comment before I posted it. I’ve made a few revisions based on that hour-long conversation.

The basic theme of the sermon—and this is an overly simplified summary—was that the U.S. started as a good Christian nation, but now our laws are becoming bad, which is clear since we are losing our Christian freedoms. The breakdown of the family and laws that allow this were the key example of the current problems. Presumably this related to same-sex marriage, but this wasn’t stated outright. This degradation was paralleled with the second beast of Revelation 13, the one that has horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon.

So what the sermon was really saying by describing a fall from good to bad was that slavery did not discredit the early great Christian version of America. The U.S. was still godly. But today U.S. laws don’t support a certain version of Christian ideals relating to the family, so now we’re falling. However, this disregards the generations of families in slavery who were ripped apart as they were bought and sold (more than 10 million ^arrived^ in the New World, plus those born here; besides all those who died or were killed while crossing the Atlantic). How’s that for “Christian family values”? The abuse of those families didn’t invalidate the great Christian start to this country, but gay marriage does?

If our biblical interpretation demands that we disregard the violent injustice experienced by millions of people, then based on the centrality of justice to God’s Word, I propose that we reconsider our interpretation, or at least add a bit of nuance.

If one accepts the overall Adventist understanding of Revelation 13, then I propose a simple alteration of the sermon’s message: understand both features (lamb-like horns and dragon-like speech) throughout its history instead of saying one was earlier and the other was later. That is, at its start the U.S. had an appearance of godliness (lamb-like appearance), but it spoke like a dragon (slaves not treated as humans, at best counted only as three-fifths human). Injustice in word and action despite a religious appearance have continued in different forms ever since, and these require a persistent critique. To this end, I shared a small book with the pastor—Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

This approach is in line with early Adventist views (not that early is necessarily right or best, but merely demonstrates that my proposed interpretation is hardly novel). Adventist historian Doug Morgan writes about those Adventists:


Challenging the prevalent postmillennialist conception of the United States as an instrument of progress toward the millennium, they asserted that apocalyptic Scripture cast the Republic as a persecuting beast. They pointed to slavery and the Protestant establishment’s intolerant treatment of dissenters as evidence of the fulfillment of prophecy. (Adventism and the American Republic, 2001, p. 11).

After our conversation, the pastor decided his interpretation could have been kept in place while being supplemented with the admission that the ideals expressed in the nation’s founding documents are the key point while also admitting we have not done a good job of living up to those ideals.

This racial issue was my main disagreement with the way U.S history and God’s values were portrayed, but there were three other points that were less central to the sermon’s main arguments. First, and I don’t remember the exact wording, the violent entrance of Columbus and the conquistadors was greatly minimized (something like: they joined the people already here).

Second, yes the Bible says there will be persecution, but I’m frustrated when American Adventists accept the view that American Christians are being greatly persecuted today. Allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry is not persecuting Christians; Christians are still free to worship however we like. There is a difference between being persecuted and simply not being able to force one’s values or morals on others. We want our civil and religious freedoms, so let’s extend that concern to all others as well.

Third, the quick rise of U.S. power was described as a blessing from God. I cringe a bit when I hear this argument because I believe slavery was a key factor in our economic development. Later military dominance became another unjust tool for economic expansion. For starters, consider Smedley Butler,* John Perkins, or the case of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala (Wiki, GWU). To say that growth of the U.S. economy and our subsequent place of power in the world is simply because of God’s blessing is to sweep too much history under the rug.

In conclusion, if the Adventist interpretation of prophecy is correct, then surely it can be presented in balanced and meaningful ways that don’t (a) ignore gross injustices such as slavery and imperialism and (b) accept popular definitions of Christian victimization in the U.S. that ring hollow compared with true persecution seen in other times and also in other places today.

– – –

*My favorite Smedley quote: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

Note: This article was originally posted on Adventist Peace Fellowship blog under the title "Unlocking Revelation & U.S. History". It has been republished with permission.

Comments

  1. Our churches in North America are empty because we preach only the gospel and not the prophecy to fill our churches. 100 year old Adventist churches have less than 20 older flocks. Where are the young? Those who are oppressed and abused need to be healed before God can use them. If we don't show them their worth, they feel worthless. Jesus died to defend the victims of the devil. Mary Magdalene became the closest disciple (last one to leave the cross and first one to see the risen Savior) because the Lord defended her in front of her accusers. That was enough for Mary to pour her heart out to her beloved Master. She had the audacity to walk into the room with all the invited guests, may be the elite of the day, and show her love for her Master, who instead of condemning her, defended her to give her dignity back. Today millions of abused men and women are selling their souls to the devil, because they could not find anyone to defend them in our churches. It is easy to point out fingers, until one walks in their shoes. Today's Pharisees in our churches are afraid to teach the present truth, our distinct message, Sanctuary, second coming, state of the dead, Sabbath and Spirit of Prophecy. Sister White said those who speak smooth things will not be acknowledged as God's Shepherds.

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  2. Watch the videos of Walter Veith. He is the modern day Paul. He is not afraid to stand up for Jesus and spread His truth. 90% of the Conference paid pastors will speak the truth from the pulpit. They are afraid of their leaders and worried about their paychecks. Look how God blessed Dr. Walter Veith. God will find such people to finish the work and boldly spread the truth to the world. May the Lord find a few more like him so we can go home.

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  3. I watched the movie about Billy Graham. I don't know why we need Billy Graham's ministry for our church? Don't we have enough doctrine for our church? It looks like Adventist pastors are trying to unite with the world and its teachings. Billy Graham knew about the Ten Commandments and our faith and he rejected it for his fame and fortune. May God have mercy on us!

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    1. Hi Moni! Sorry I have been to busy to respond. Thank you for your comments! With regard to Billy Graham I think its unfair to say he rejected Gods law for his fame and fortune. That would be a judgment upon his character that is best reserved for God. I think the real question is, can Adventists appreciate, learn from, and be blessed by the ministry of non Adventists? I believe the answer is a resounding yes. I have written about that very question so you can find some articles on this site about it, but here is one link if you want to explore that. Blessings!

      http://www.pomopastor.com/2013/06/seventh-day-adventists-and-other.html

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  4. Thank you Marcos. Yes we can learn a lot from their passion to teach the error. He knew about the Sabbath and the importance of the Moral Law of God. I am not judging the person but the teachings! There is a difference. Our church is for compromise for unity. Revelation 3 God talks about the Laodicean church and we are the ones God is talking about. I will check the link. I love your passion and I listen to your teachings too. God bless you Marcos.

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  5. Billy Graham had an audience like the sand of the sea. He never opened the Bible or any of his members bring Bible. I went to churches like that for 60 years. I was an atheist. He and pastors like that talked about Jesus like so many other gods. Jesus our Lord is the Creator and Redeemer and His 7th day Sabbath proves it. Will God forgive when people knowingly reject the truth and teach lies? My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge Hosea 3:6. God is not happy when people reject the truth and deceive people. I heard the word devil for the first time in SDA church. No pastors in my entire life of church going said the word "devil" so I blamed God for all pain and sufferings. They did not say that sin cause pain and suffering.

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    1. I would have to disagree with you there Moni. I have listened to and watched pretty much every Billy Graham sermon available, have visited the Billy Graham library, and have read a lot of his work. If there was something Billy Graham always did it was open the Bible and point people to it. There is a myth that Billy Graham believed in the 7th day Sabbath and rejected it but I have never seen evidence of this. Its just a story Adventists have told over the year with no real reference to confirm its authenticity. In fact, while Billy Graham never did believe in the 7th day Sabbath he never believed the law of God was done away with. In his sermon on the 10 commandments he specificially said that the Sabbath commandment had never been done away with and he called people to keep the Sabbath as a holy day not as a common day. (
      https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=266&dat=19840601&id=QfowAAAAIBAJ&sjid=R-AFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3452,4315712&hl=en)

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    2. Unfortunately Billy was highly influenced by Sunday-Sabbath tradition so he never saw the Sabbath as being on the 7th day - nevertheless he did believe in the Sabbath even if he was in fact wrong on the day on which it falls. Billy Graham always preached the Bible, exalted the Bible, and called his people to read the Bible. True, his theology wasnt perfect but neither was Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Uriah Smith, or DL Moody - all mighty men of God who have come through the ages and whom we as Adventists have our roots and heritage firmly planted. Remember, when God calls people out of Babylon in Revelation he is not calling heathens and deceivers. The text specifically says "come out of her MY people" which means that God has people in Babylon today and will continue to until the end of time. Being in Babylon does not make them Satans people. God still refers to them as "MY people". As Adventists, we need to be very careful with creating these cheesy black and white boxes that we put people in. Just because Billy never believed the Sabbath doesnt make him bad, evil, or to be rejected. After all, there are many Adventist teachers who teach error as well so just because you have the label "Adventist" doesnt make you magically able to always teach the truth. Its not about the denomination we claim but about our hearts being in submission to God. And as Adventists we also need to be careful with how people respond to what we know to be truth. Its not up to us to determine how soon or at what point a person should accept truth. Just because someone doesnt see things identical to us doesnt mean they should be avoided. As Adventists we dont exist in a bubble. Our roots are deep in the reformation and we share the heritage with many Christians. Perhaps this is why Ellen White joined other Christians in the temperance movement, spoke at their events, and encouraged SDA pastors to come near to ministers of other religions, to pray with them and for them, and to focus on point of agreement. In all of this we do not compromise the truth, rather we uphold it while being humble and hospitable with those whose faith differs from ours. The following article lays this out much better than the last one in that it traces the historical development of this balance in the ministry of Ellen White. https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2002/04/another-look-at-babylon.html

      Lastly, I think we also need to be careful in judging the motives of church leaders. It is not fair to say that church leaders are for compromise and unity. True, we are not a perfect church and there are many things that happen which disappoint me, but that doesn't mean I should adopt a suspicious stance against my church leaders. I don't believe our church is perfect, but neither do I believe that our leaders are all for compromise for the sake of unity. Out current policies regarding interfaith relations stem from the very life and writings of EGW, from the Bibles admonition that those in Babylon are Gods people and that "other sheep God has which are not of this fold", and from scriptures basic call to humility, altruism, and love.

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    3. I read the link above. I had no idea about this. By the way, I never heard Ellen White's name from any Adventist pastors in our different churches. It is good that you take time to educate people. Thank you so much.

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    4. I think its sort of like a pendulum Moni. Back in the day EGW was used more than the Bible and people have reacted by avoiding her altogether now. However, I do know of a lot of SDA pastors who still use her quite often. True, we dont use her as much as we used to (nor should we) but the idea that she is no longer used is only true in certain areas. Like I said, I still know of a number of pastors that quote her appropriately and from time to time I add her thoughts in my sermons as well. I'm glad you found the link above informative. The following link is another article that I found especially insightful. https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2013/04/adventists-and-ecumenism Feel free to share your thoughts.

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  6. "Our churches in North America are empty because we preach only the gospel and not the prophecy to fill our churches."
    ...perhaps the gospel is actually NOT being preached...instead, "the present truth, our distinct message, Sanctuary, second coming, state of the dead, Sabbath and Spirit of Prophecy" is what is being preached and that is what is being rejected because (no offense) that is not the gospel.

    Just sayin

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    1. I would have to disagree with both. I think our churches are empty for a plethora of reasons, not just one. We need to be careful in trying to find one scapegoat to blame all our problems on. The issues are really complex and we cant just say its our preaching. I think the issues can more accurately be described as being 1) the rise of skepticism, modernism and postodernism 2) irrelevant church programs 3) lack of true christian love 4) christian absense in matters of social justice and service 5) imbalanced preaching 6) lack of personal/ individual time with God 6) reliance on outdated methods of evangelism 7) absense of true and loving relationships with the outside world 8) lack of reliance upon the holy spirit 9) lack of prayer 10) laodecian spirit 11) economic challanges 12) sociological barriers 13) lack of relevant gospel sharing (not just preaching) 14) failure to understand and present the narrative of redemption in culturally savvy ways 15) failure to be students of the culture, understand their worldviews, and engage them in intelligent discussion 16) failure to present the 3 angels messages in the light of the cross 17) failure to present our prophetic message as a whole in light of the cross 18) misuse of finances 19) patriotic enamorment with tradition 20) arrogance and narcissism (rich and in need of nothing) that prevent us from adapting to contemporary needs and culture 21) division, dissension, and suspicion of one another 22) a repelling focus on doom and gloom, conspiracy theories, and the work of Satan as opposed to Christ 23) a lack of creative ministries to serve the needs of people in our day and age 24) no passion for the story our beliefs tell 25) church members live within and under the influence of our cultures materialism, sense of entitlement, and lack of personal sacrifice 26) too busy paying the bills (keeping up with the Joneses) 27) too distracted by work, entertainment, and our own plans

      and I could keep on going!

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  7. Marcos, you are right on the condition of the churches. But God called each one of us to follow Him and those who do that will do the work He asked us to do. We are not saved collectively but individually. I want you to watch the video "Chito Del Rio Texas". His story will inspire all of us. This story tells us how we should treat the marginalized. As Christians, it is our duty to see the worth in every child of God. When we show them their worth, they will shout from the roof top to praise their Creator. Unfortunately people do not understand this simple thing. It does not cause a dime but a loving heart to accept and recognize others who are less fortunate than us. I love your passion and your ministry. I visit Sunday churches and share with them what I believe. We have to show our faith in action. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to obey God, Lot was willing to give up his own daughters to the hungry men to save the strangers came under his roof. May God bless you Marcos.

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  8. Let me remind you this Marcos Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. I don't know how God feels about anyone who misleads people by not teaching the truth. In my opinion, there is no need for a pastor in America not to know the truth. In poor countries they don't have the knowledge we have here, to understand history and know why we are Protestants. Anyone with God's wisdom should know that if Bible is God's word, we cannot disagree. Love God and Love others. This is what the Law is all about. How much difference and dispute can come from this unless the devil is teaching and guiding us?. James 3:1 My brethren let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. There is a church in almost every street where I live. All supposed to teach the "truth" and can't stand each other. But our God is good, He will find His lost children and save them. So we do our part and the rest is up to God.

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  9. Thank you for your comments Moni! I did watch that video and it was so moving! Wow. What an amazing human being. Once again, thank you for taking the time to share and inspire with your thoughts. God bless you Moni!

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  10. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I know you are very very busy and still you find time to respond. I admire you a lot and your passion for winning souls and standing up for truth. You taught me lot of things for which I thank you. I shared that video with many because that is what Christianity is all about. Many people are not getting the msg after years of hearing the word of God is that they have no desire for self sacrifice to serve others. That poor Chito is telling, "I have to cut the grass otherwise people cannot see the cars at the dealership and they will not be able to sell the cars" and he is doing it free so they can do their business even though he cannot drive. Jesus wants us to be unselfish and put others ahead of us and then blessings will flow to us. God cannot work with a selfish heart where self is more important than others. How unselfish was our Lord to save us! How can His followers be anything less! May God bless us all to look at the cross and live for the rest of our days.

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  11. Marcos, share the testimony of Shahbaz from Muslim to Adventism with your people. It is a powerful testimony. So also the testimony of Walter Veith. Testimonies will have powerful effect on people than sermons. People came to Jesus in thousands because of the testimony of others. God wants to hear from us.

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